STI: There are three stages of HIV – symptoms of the viral infection

Prince Harry urges Brits to get HIV tests

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In the acute HIV infection stage, the US Department of Health and Human Services cautioned that within a month of catching the virus, two-thirds of people will experience a flu-like illness. Considered a “natural response” to the virus, flu-like symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers.

These symptoms can last for a few days to several weeks, but some people do not even have any symptoms during the early stage of HIV.

As the virus multiples within the body, people tend not to experience any symptoms.

Frighteningly, people can remain in this symptomless – and contagious – stage for up to 15 years.

The virus can be passed on via sexual intercourse, hence why regular sexual health checks are critical.

Eventually, HIV weakens the body’s immune system and will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Symptoms of AIDS can include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • Diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

The only way to guarantee whether you have HIV or not is to get tested.

A HIV test involves a blood or salvia sample – some sexual health clinics offer a finger-prick blood test that can give results within minutes.

HIV lives in blood and some body fluids, including vaginal fluids and semen.

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The virus can not, however, be passed on via salvia, sweat or urine, which will not contain enough of the virus to pass onto someone else.

HIV is not passed on through:

  • Spitting
  • Kissing
  • Being bitten
  • Contact with unbroken, healthy skin
  • Being sneezed on
  • Sharing baths, towels or cutlery
  • Using the same toilets or swimming pools
  • Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • Contact with animals or insects like mosquitoes.

How HIV causes immune damage

The virus attaches to immune system cells called CD4 lymphocyte cells.

These cells are responsible for protecting the body against pathogens.

However, when the virus has infected the cells, it makes copious copies of itself, killing the CD4 cells in the process.

This destructive process continues until the number of CD4 cells are so low that the immune system stops working.

Nowadays, antiretroviral drugs can be taken to stop the virus from replicating in the body.

“This allows the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage,” the NHS explained.

People diagnosed with HIV will not be able to donate blood or organs; nor can they join the armed forces.

The lifelong condition may have an impact on your mental wellbeing, but support is available at your local HIV support services.

The Terrence Higgins Trust cautioned there’s a risk of prosecution for reckless transmission of HIV if:

  • You had sex with someone who didn’t know you had HIV
  • You knew you had HIV at that time
  • You understood how HIV is transmitted
  • You had sex without a condom, and
  • You transmitted HIV to that person.

To help protect yourself from HIV, or from passing the virus on, do wear condoms.

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